Ryan's Reviews > Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions

Quality with Soul by Robert, Benne
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May 06, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction, religion-theology, education, own
Read from April 08 to May 06, 2011

** spoiler alert ** My notes and summary:
***He begins with references to other books that have dealt with the issue of colleges with Christian heritage such as James Burtchaell's "The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universiteis from Their Christian Churches" and Hughes and Adrian's "Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the 21st Century".

***He distinguishes three domains that dictate the relationship of a college with its Christian roots: Persons, Ethos, & Vision. Persons regards the makeup of the student body (there are few examples of Christian colleges that maintain a dominant population of their specific denomination as students). This also relates to the denominational requirements of faculty and administrators. For ethos, it is referring to things like required chapel attendance and behavior rules for the students and faculty. Lastly, vision refers to the purpose and mission of the college and how closely it relates to a Biblical/denominational purpose. This has always been the weakest of the three at many institutions, and often contributes to the degradation of the other two domains.

He briefly explains the impact of the Enlightenment on religious thought. Specifically, the epistemological disagreement about how we know the religious and moral truths that guide us. The Enlightenment claimed it was not through revelation, but through reason and science. This created a path that put the pursuit of Truth in the hands of man instead of relying on Holy Scripture.

***He mentions the LCMS and the Concordia system a few times, but it sounds like Burtchaell talks about them more at length in his book. Burtachaell states: “As regards right doctrine (the Missouri obsession), conformity was traded off heavily against energetic articulation or exploration, so although theology was the premier discipline at the colleges, it was not particularly biblical in its development or scholarly in its outcome.” P45

***Benne uses the framework of three factors to assess the trajectory of six different schools: a Reformed college (Calvin), an evangelical college (Wheaton), two Lutheran schools (St. Olaf – ELCA; Valparaiso – closest to LCMS), a Catholic university (Notre Dame), and a Baptist university (Baylor).

***More detail regarding the history of the Missouri Synod. Founded in 1847 by two separate groups of German immigrants – one group from Saxony (Walther) and one from Franconia (Loehe), it has grown from the original 12 congregations to 2.6 million members. One of the reasons it generated so many parochial schools was to maintain German heritage and orthodoxy. He describes it as having “a sharp and clear identity and sense of mission that has made it a strong tradition even after it shed some of its strong German ethnicity.” As the church acculturated, however, there was a reactionary quasi-fundamentalist movement in the late 60’s that led to the big split in the 70’s. The denominational bureaucracy was taken over by the successful quasi-fundamentalist movement. They then purged the schools and churches of outspoken dissenters who formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (which eventually joined the ELCA in 1988). Valparaiso, despite being an LCMS school, has weathered these storms because it is an independent Lutheran institution. They continue to have an uneasy alliance with the LCMS.

***The Reformed worldview states that all human faculties have been affected by the fall, including human reason. While non-Christian learning can contain truths about the world, there is a strong tendency for it to be distorted by human fallibility and sin. Thus, it cannot be taught without a Christian critique to young Christians. It is assumed in this "Reformed epistemology" that the biblical worldview, interpreted by Reformed theology, is true. So any conflicts between secular knowledge and the Christian approach must be "redeemed" by Christian scholarship. So, in theory, each field of learning can be transformed into genuine Christian knowledge (such as Christian sociology and Christian economics). This worldview analysis is what goes on in the classroom at Reformed colleges. It requires an examination of the underlying assumptions of many fields of study (e.g., views on free will) in order for the knowledge to be "claimed for Christ".

***For an analysis of of the social sciences as anti-theologies see John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason.

***One of the reasons the Lutheran schools he profiles are reluctant to codify a detailed blueprint of the Christian life is because Lutheran theology is more focused on justification than on sanctification.
***Benne describes the LCMS system as having too much sectarianism to support schools like Valparaiso.

***Some of the more "general Christian" colleges sometimes criticize places like Calvin college for not respecting any kind of secular learning. But these differences are what prevent all Christian colleges from moving towards complete secularization. C.S. Lewis argues that Christianity is like a great central hall in which we meet Christ and witness the spectacular work of God. Around the side of this grand hall are smaller rooms in which meals are served, wounds healed, skills taught, and friends made. Don't stay long in the great hall, he said; find a smaller one where there is nourishment for the mind and soul. Without that smaller hall, the great hall lacks Christian texture and specificity. p184-185.
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